Frampton brings Circus to town

05:00 AM, Jun 27, 2013

Peter Frampton. 2013 Rochester International Jazz Festival/

Written By Brian Mansfield | USA Today

If you go

What: Peter Frampton’s Guitar Circus

with Robert Cray.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday.
Where: Kodak Hall at Eastman Theatre,

60 Gibbs St.
Cost: $70 to $125.
For tickets: (585) 454-2100


Step right up, folks: This summer, Peter Frampton will serve as ringmaster for the greatest guitar show on Earth.

Frampton’s Guitar Circus rolls into town Friday as the Eastman Theatre headline show for the Xerox Rochester International Jazz Festival. He’s bringing along Robert Cray and other guests for the ride.

It’s basically reminding people that, first and foremost, I’m a guitar player,” says Frampton, who played in Humble Pie before becoming one of the biggest teen idols of the ’70s, “and that pop star was sort of a sideline that I got hoodwinked by for a few years there.”

Many special guests have or will jump on the Circus bandwagon at some point, including Vince Gill, B.B. King, Byrds founder Roger McGuinn, Richard Thompson, Living Colour’s Vernon Reid, former Eagle Don Felder, Stone Temple Pilots’ Dean DeLeo, Los Lobos’ David Hidalgo, Vinnie Moore and John Jorgensen.

I’m so honored that all my heroes want to come sit in,” Frampton says. “Already, the excitement is higher than I thought it could be.”

Frampton talked about the tour right before its start on Memorial Day weekend.

A new live album every night. As he did with his 2011-12 tour celebrating the 35th anniversary of his eight-times-platinum 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive, the 63-year-old guitarist will offer live recordings of the Guitar Circus shows. “We’re going to make each show available online as a download within 48 hours of the show,” he says.

Long time gone. In December 2011, Frampton was reunited with his 1954 Gibson Les Paul Black Beauty, the electric guitar featured on the Comes Alive cover and many of its songs. It had disappeared after a 1980 cargo plane crash in Venezuela and was presumed destroyed. But a fan recognized the instrument, which had been rescued from the wreckage, acquired it, then returned it to Frampton.

Before I opened the bag, I knew it was mine,” Frampton says. “It’s one of the lightest Les Pauls I’ve ever played. In the early- to mid-’50s, the mahogany Gibson used from Honduras was from up the mountain, and the further up the mountain, the lighter the wood, because it’s further away from the water table.” Had that guitar not disappeared for 31 years, Frampton might have lost it for good in the 2010 Nashville flood, which ruined 44 of his guitars. “I wasn’t the worst — I had flood insurance,” he says. “I went and kissed my business manager.”

That talking guitar. Frampton still uses the talk-box effect, where an amplified guitar sound is driven through a plastic tube that he inserts into his mouth, allowing him to form words with the sound. Originally popularized by swing-era steel guitarist Alvino Rey, Frampton learned about the effect from steel guitarist Pete Drake, when both were playing on George Harrison’s All Things Must Pass album.

There it was, right in front of me, this sound that had been haunting me for most of my life,” says Frampton, who used it on hits Show Me the Way and Do You Feel Like We Do. Now Frampton has a boutique company, Framptone, that makes the boxes. “They’re a little more robust than the ones I originally used,” he says.

The stage is set. Frampton first took the stage as an 8-year-old Cub Scout, accompanying fellow troop members during a variety show.

I was the only guy in the troop that played an instrument, aside from the lady who played piano,” he says. The young Frampton performed two numbers on his own — covers of Cliff Richard and Buddy Holly hits, as he recalls. “I went down remarkably well, if I might say. And that’s when, apparently — my mother told me, I don’t remember saying this — I said, ‘Seeing as how you like me so much, I’m going to do one of my own compositions.’ And I sang my very first song that I wrote. The whole place collapsed into laughter, and the stage manager was trying to find a hook long enough to get me off the stage.”

The afterlife of an idol. Frampton is unique among former teen idols, in that he was a respected musician before appearing shirtless on the cover of Rolling Stone and exciting the younger set. “I’m an old geezer now, but then I was found remarkably attractive to the opposite sex,” he says. “If I had looked like the back of a bus, I would have stayed a very good musician.”

While the casual fan’s knowledge of his catalog may start with Comes Alive and end with I’m In You, he has remained musically enthusiastic and inventive, winning his first Grammy Award in 2005 for his instrumental album Fingerprints and writing music for a performance with the Cincinnati Ballet this spring.

There were three sections — the beginning 20 minutes was old music, the third act was older music, but in the center I wrote seven brand-new pieces — and there was a different choreographer for each act,” he says. “The sense of achievement for that so outweighs the feeling that I had back in the ’70s.”